Few sights in the world rival the nighttime view from the Margit Bridge in Budapest, Hungary. Parliament, the Chain Bridge, Fisherman’s bastion, Matthias Chapel, Gellert Hill and a smattering of onion top church steeples – all are awash in golden lights. This view is captured in my blog header. When friends visit, we walk onto the bridge and ooh and ahh before turning towards home. That’s when we see this:
Seriously McDonald’s, I am not loving it.
I have nothing against McDonald’s. They perform good deeds globally: renovating historic buildings not salvageable through local funds and opening Ronald McDonald Houses to support families requiring accomodations near treatment centers for their ill children. Budapest is the recipient of both types of investment. In fairness, McDonald’s is about more than just the Big Mac.
But golden neon arches do not belong on a building rooftop near the Danube banks – particularly in a stretch designated a UNESCO world heritage site. This sign is the sole neon eye sore, blaring a reminder of the American fast food craze. Can’t most people whip out their smart phones to locate the closest McDonald’s in a fit of Big Mac desperation?
Sadly, these symbols of American culture have become our identify. We eat our meals at McDonald’s and drink our coffee at Starbucks. We buy our “stuff” at Walmart. And our 20 year old daughters twerk – some on national television. Americans are broad brushed as the crazy participants in reality TV shows.
While we may laugh off the ridiculous antics of a bizarre and relative few of our countryman, the rest of the world watches and takes note. “Look at what those crazy Americans are doing now.” People who have never set foot in the United States have a firmly held belief of exactly who we are and how we live.
Recently, I ate lunch with my Hungarian friend. “Julie, is it true that Mylie Cyrus and Hannah Montana are the same person?” I affirmed this is, sadly, true. My friend gushed, “That’s not possible. Her picture is on my daughter’s lunch box!”
Let’s take back control of our image. Can we encourage our children to select the Neil Armstrong lunch box? Perhaps we could erect a sign which advertises: Thanks, Dr. Salk. Five billion lives saved. And could we televise 20 year old American women studying at Harvard? After all, the United States is a lot like McDonald’s. It isn’t all good, but it certainly isn’t all bad.
So yes, McDonald’s, I am not loving it. Miley, not loving you either. And when we watch our reality TV shows and laugh at how insane “those crazy Americans” are, just remember, to the rest of the world that is what it means to be an American. The buffoonery is our global brand. Perhaps we may elect to dismiss the prejudices of ill informed people who believe television and news headlines, versus first hand experience and perspective. Yet, do we really want to be equated with these symbols?
The bottom line, we are not known for the polio vaccine, the artificial heart, landing a man on the moon, the creation of the internet, some of the best universities in the world or Joshua Bell. I’m not loving that either.